Saturday, 20 December 2008

Scrooge vs Santa

Up until now I had been quite excited to discover I wasn’t the only Scrooge in the country. Back in England, to be in church and not to be into Christmas was, certainly in my experience, something of an anathema. The two seemed indivisible. Over the years I found myself the centre of much seasonal bafflement – particularly when I married someone who enjoys all things Christmasy! My lack of emotional attachment to the celebrations finds me fitting well amongst a group of Christians from Muslim, Catholic and communist backgrounds. While none of us doubt the importance of Jesus’ birth we have our questions about what the celebration has turned into. I’m not going to try and persuade anyone to my point of view, but neither am I going to get excited about something I think at best unimportant, at worst misguided.

Sadly, such high-sounding principles lay dashed by an ignominious fall from the moral high ground. I had to make a tough decision in what was an interestingly organised trip distributing humanitarian aid. Our team was performing puppet shows to children and giving out hundreds of shoeboxes stuffed with toys, treats and essentials sent from the UK. In a couple of locations the local organisers had asked that a ‘Santa’ be on hand to help distribute the parcels. Our designated ‘Santa’ pulled out of the trip at the last minute. With only two blokes left in the team it became a me-or-him scenario. I was told I was to be Santa. They tried to soften the blow by telling me that since communist times Santa is a New Year figure here. I tried a typically subtle English response to indicate my disapproval, but that doesn’t translate cross-culturally.

I was eventually presented with the opportunity to flat out refuse but by now it was apparent I would be letting down the local organisers and, of course, the children – and aren’t they who it’s all about? So reluctantly I donned the stupid red outfit to become possibly the most un-ho-ho-ho-ing Santa in the world (an untimely blocked-up nose wasn’t helping matters). Yes, babies cried, small children looked the other way and some refused to have their picture taken with this grotty Santa. But for those who laughed and smiled – and took photos – and went home with something meaningful from the experience let’s hope it was worth it. Meanwhile I’m left to hope this sacrifice of principle isn’t the thin end of the wedge.

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